FRUITPORT, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a Wednesday, and just inside the doors of the Fruitport Christian Reformed Church’s fellowship hall, there is a smell of fresh roast. It permeates the halls and rooms as volunteers get ready to welcome the community inside.
Each Wednesday, the church opens its doors to break bread with neighbors.
“The mission of this church has long been celebrating God’s love in Jesus and sharing it with others,” Pastor John Huyser said. “Food is basic hospitality.”
Since the 1990s, food has been a major part of the church’s ministry through its food pantry. In 2016, Huyser and other area church leaders recognized that churches in the community were “competing” against each other to feed hungry neighbors, so they consolidated their pantries into one to serve at a greater capacity. That’s when John Huyser and his wife Julie Huyser took over the Neighbor to Neighbor Food Pantry.
“There’s a big need out there for food pantries right now,” Julie Huyser said. “And I find that a lot of people, once they come to a food pantry once or twice, it gets them out of that rut that they’re in.”
Each Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Julie Huyser and four of her volunteers will serve 20 families. It’s by appointment only and takes about 15 minutes per family. Clients fill out a menu of what they want and volunteers fill the order and help bring it back to the car.
The pantry typically reaches nearly 1,000 families annually.
“There’s a lot of mornings when you wake up and you feel like you are at rock bottom, then you come work at the food pantry and find out you’re not at rock bottom,” Julie Huyser said. “It’s just nice to be able to touch their life in just a simple little way and help them to be able to free up some money, help them to be able to experience Christ’s love.”
During the food pantry window, the entire community is welcomed into the church for dinner and club activities. It’s John Huyser’s way of reaching those in need and learning more about how to help.
“It’s one of the least threatening ways to build relationships,” he said of the community dinner. “People become very comfortable sharing their stories, communicating their needs in ways than if we were just asking them to call in a need or show up for like an appointment with the pastor — ’cause that’s all scary. It’s completely different when you’re just doing it over a meal.”
He said relationships with about a dozen businesses help keep the pantry healthy, through donations and sponsoring the Feeding America food trucks it brings in for families. A relationship with Feeding America West Michigan offers resources and knowledge the pantry otherwise wouldn’t have.
“Feeding America has done a couple things for us. One, there’s all the food safety things that you don’t think of that they’re the pros on. The other piece is they just have such great resources and advice for different situations,” John Huyser said. “They are also able to bring us just a vast number of resources, include us in on different things that they get in that you would never think of. And we’ve just been really blessed by that.”
The Huysers are hoping they’ll also be blessed by the generosity of the Fruitport High School students through the Football Frenzy Food Drive. They’ll be receiving all of the donated items from Week 5 of the food drive. And when Julie Huyser was told that other schools have donated thousands of pounds of food, her response was not to wish for more. Instead, it was to think of what amount would make an immediate impact on the neighbors they serve.
“We’d even be happy with six, 700 pounds. It doesn’t need to be 1,000,” Julie Huyser said. “We’re helping each other out, takes a village.”
Fruitport went far beyond those expectations: It collected 2,570 pounds.
In all, the Football Frenzy Food Drive has collected more than 11,500 pounds so far this season.